The momentum in hiking footwear is moving away from bulky boots toward lightweight shoes and even trail runners that are faster and more comfortable. You do lose some ankle support when carrying a heavy pack or traversing rocky trails, but the weight savings and feathery feel are worth it for many. Below are our favorite hiking shoes of 2018, from ultralight options for fast and light trips to more supportive models for carrying a full pack.
1. Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
The updated Salomon X Ultra 3 is our top lightweight hiking shoe of 2018, combining a feathery feel with impressive on-trail performance. As with the previous model, which also topped the list, the third edition puts it all together: the shoe is competitively light at 1 pound 10 ounces (for a men’s size 9), the new tread design grips even better in just about all conditions, and the stable chassis and cushioned interior are great for long trail days. All told, we highly recommend the X Ultra for day hikes, quick summits, and even lightweight backpacking.
2. Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof
These may not be your long distance or ultra-rugged hiking shoes, but there is a lot to like about Merrell’s flagship Moab. Merrell stuck with what has made the shoe so popular over the years: a lightweight but planted feel, a comfortable fit, and a value price. Changes include a more durable upper and greater cushioning in the heel of the footbed. The Moab 2’s still are a great value at $120 for the waterproof model, and the non-waterproof Vent shoe is only $100.
3. The North Face Ultra 110 GTX
The North Face may list the Ultra 110 GTX as a trail-running shoe, but we think it checks all the boxes for a quality lightweight hiker: it has a stable platform, good foot protection, and durable construction. We were big fans of the old Ultra 109 GTX, and the new 110 addresses our primary complaint: tread life. Whereas the 109 wore down in less than one season of use, the new rubber is much more aggressive and is holding up far better on the rocky and rough trails of the Cascade Range.
4. Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R2 GTX
Adidas has expanded its hiking footwear line substantially in recent years, and the updated Terrex Swift R2 GTX is very capable on the trail. The sleek design and single-pull lacing system are reminiscent of a Salomon shoe, but at 1 pound 8.6 ounces, the R2 is even lighter and tougher than the X Ultra 3 GTX above. The sole feels like a hiking boot, toe and protection around the side of the foot are impressive, and the Gore-Tex lining provides waterproofing without feeling swampy. That’s a winning formula for Adidas and has made the Terrex line quite popular.
5. La Sportiva TX3
The La Sportiva TX 3 certainly isn’t a traditional pick, but boy do we love this shoe. It’s built as an approach shoe, which means that it’s grippy and tough for long hikes to climbing objectives or traveling over steep, rocky terrain. The Vibram outsole, full rubber rand, and smooth area of sticky rubber under the toe make it a great option for scrambling, smearing, and edging on rock. But what we have been impressed with most is its versatility: the TX3 does equally well moving fast on the trail with its light, breathable, and moderately flexible construction. We even like it for everyday use due to the high levels of comfort and attractive design.
6. Keen Targhee III WP
Not to be outdone by Merrell’s update to their signature Moab shoes, Keen released a new Targhee in late 2017. The changes aren’t groundbreaking but do a nice job at modernizing the classic design. Most importantly, the super wide foot bed of the previous model has been trimmed down slightly to give the shoe a slightly less sloppy feel over rocky terrain. The Targhee III still won’t be confused with an aggressive model like the Salomon X Ultra 3 above, but its tough leather construction, reasonable weight, and well-cushioned interior make it a great casual hiker.
7. Altra Lone Peak 3.5
Running-centric brand Altra quickly has established itself as a go-to footwear option for hikers, with a strong lineup of heavily cushioned but lightweight zero-drop shoes. Their flagship trail runner is the Lone Peak—a shoe line with loyalists in the thru-hiking and minimalist trekking communities for its combination of comfort and weight. And for summer last year, Altra released the “3.5.” The main changes included stronger, reinforced upper materials and drainage ports for creek crossings. We’ve found that the Lone Peak is suitably tough for trail use, has excellent traction, and the thick cushioning isolates you from harsh impacts underfoot.
8. Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX
With a stable platform and lightweight upper, the Vasque Breeze 3.0 is a thoroughly modern hiking shoe. The substantial Vibram rubber and wide base is a big contributor, providing excellent traction without a clunky feel. And as we’ve come to expect from Vasque, the Breeze’s construction, fit, and comfort are all excellent.
9. Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry
Based in Bozeman, Montana, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Oboz footwear is noted for its stability and traction. Their Sawtooth Low shoe, which is also offered in a mid-height boot, is clearly built for the rough trails you’ll find in the Rockies. It’s not the lightest shoe around and isn’t recommended for the fast hiker, but we’ve found it to be a great solution for folks looking to upgrade in stiffness and support from their Merrell Moabs.
10. Merrell MQM Flex
Merrell’s discontinued Moab FST line failed to resonate with lightweight hikers, but we expect a better outcome for the brand-new Flex MQM. This shoe resembles a slightly built-up trail runner with a thin mesh upper, nimble feel, and 1-pound 3-ounce listed weight (our men’s size 9s were a bit heavier at 1 pound 7.7 ounces). But as we found on an ultralight backpacking trip in Utah’s Canyon Country, the MQM is at home on the trail with good toe and heel protection, a roomy toe box, and a secure fit.
11. Lowa Renegade GTX Low
Cutting the top off the legendary Lowa Renegade boots, the Renegade GTX Low hiking shoes retain the excellent weight-to-support ratio in a trimmer package. Retailing for over $200, they are unquestionably expensive, and, honestly, we recommend trying to get them on sale. For the extra dough, you do get a polyurethane frame, which acts like an exoskeleton, bringing added rollover stability. You also get a fully leather upper on the Renegade, which is tough and water resistant.
12. The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX
Fastpacking is at the core of the lightweight footwear movement: it’s all about covering as much ground as possible while carrying the least possible weight. The North Face isn’t shy about targeting this group, with their Hedgehog Fastpack shoes. Is the Hedgehog best for fastpacking? We’d say no. But the shoe is very nicely made and actually has a wider appeal to the general hiking crowd with a light feel, good underfoot support, and Gore-Tex waterproofing. The mix of leather and tightly woven mesh is quite durable as well.
13. Salomon Odyssey Pro
Released last year, the Salomon Odyssey Pro aims to harness the benefits of a trail runner—lightness, cushioning, and comfort—in a capable hiking shoe package. And from our experience, they did a pretty good job overall. The shoe feels extremely light, and the bouncy midsole has the energy and comfort that we love in a design like the Lone Peak above. More, the Odyssey Pro appears ready for abuse with durable uppers and stronger lateral support than a typical running shoe.
14. La Sportiva Wildcat
Years ago, I decided to take a chance on the La Sportiva Wildcat’s as my daily trail runners. Quickly, I transitioned them to their better usage—fast-moving summer day hikes—thanks to the excellent shock absorption and breathability. I’m not alone, as the Wildcat has garnered a lot of praise over the past few years, helping propel trail-running shoes fully into the hiking footwear market. The outsole design, optimized for trail running over varied and rough terrain, is equally at home on the rocky and rooty hiking trails in the Cascades. Notably, we’ve also seen the shoes on a number of PCT thru-hikers.
15. Vasque Grand Traverse
Similar to the La Sportiva TX3 above, Vasque’s Grand Traverse blurs the lines between an approach and hiking shoe. And the Vasque is even more tuned than the La Sportiva for trail use: it’s reasonably light, grips exceptionally well on rock, and is quite comfortable. More, the Grand Traverse is reasonably flexible and breathes well with heavy use of mesh along the shoe’s upper.
16. Brooks Cascadia 12
Already in its 12th generation, the Brooks Cascadia trail shoe has developed a loyal following among trail runners and hikers alike. Some models have been better received than others (the 10th generation, for example, had its share of detractors), but the plush and cushioned underfoot feel and long-lasting traction make the Brooks a compelling hiking shoe.
17. Salewa Firetail 3
Salewa has built a reputation around burly footwear and gear intended for harsh alpine environments. So it was fitting that we took their newest approach shoe, the Firetail 3, on a trip over the brutal terrain of southeast Alaska. Through rocky scrambles and rough, off-trail hiking, the shoe proved to be exceptionally durable and stable. And the climbing-style laces that extend all the way to the toes give it a secure and excellent fit. We tested the Gore-Tex version of Firetail 3, but consider the non-waterproof model the better option for most hiking with its improved breathability and lighter weight.
18. Arc’teryx Acrux SL GTX
Throwing out the book on how shoes are built, Arc’teryx’s growing footwear line has generated a lot of buzz for its outside-the-box design. Rather than being constructed as a single item, the shoes have two parts: a soft liner and tough outer shell. The liner is essentially a waterproof sock and delivers unparalleled levels of fit and glove-like comfort. Technically the Acrux SL are approach shoes, but they earn a spot on this list as great day hikers with superior traction over the rocky stuff.